From food to environmental allergies, as many as 1 in four European children have allergies and United States kids don’t fare much better. A recent study goes as far as to say that allergies are the non-infectious epidemic of the 21st century. Keeping this mind, researchers seek to find what factors influence a child’s allergies.
The major topic at the EAACI Pediatric Allergy and Asthma meeting this month in Barcelona, Spain, was detection and reduction of the early causes of childhood allergy. Evidence suggests that nutrition and other lifestyle factors like breastfeeding help reduce the early allergy symptoms. It has been established that exposure to allergens, both food and environmental, play a role but the dosage and timing has yet to be defined.
While breastfeeding for the first 4-6 months of life has been found to reduce the risk for atopic eczema and cow’s milk allergy, this knowledge is just the beginning of allergy research. Expression of allergies is pretty complex, and is the result of the interaction between genetics and environmental factors. Some environmental factors may either protect or promote allergies, like in the case of pollution where it was found to increase respiratory allergies in children.
Exposure to environmental factors has changed over the past few decades, yet exposure to agents like food, dust mites, pets, and pollen is a prerequisite to allergy development. However, many other unknown factors play a role. Add a parent, or both, with allergies and that increases the complexity and ups the risk for allergies. Allergy expression varies through the lifecycle, and some allergies get replaced with another over time. For example, food allergies like cow’s milk are most often expressed in the first year of life, whereas allergies to inhalants occur later in childhood.
One thing doctors can agree on is that achieving better management of childhood allergies lies in developing treatments that not only control symptoms but ultimately lead to a cure, as well as seeking better diagnostic methods. Detecting allergies early can lead to a better quality of life, thus emphasis should be placed on education and awareness so that allergy sufferers can avoid contact with allergens to help alleviate symptoms. Until more allergy research develops, the study furthers the evidence of the many benefits of breastfeeding.